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Sapphire's Toxic X1900 XTX graphics card

At long last, a different Radeon

ModelToxic Radeon X1900 XTX
Price (Street)$650

LATELY, GRAPHICS CARD manufacturers have become less willing—or perhaps less capable—of deviating from the reference designs provided by ATI and NVIDIA. This trend is especially apparent at the high end of the market, where often little more than a sticker and a couple of MHz differentiates one manufacturer's card from another. There's not really anything wrong with reference designs; it's just disappointing to see card makers settling for the status quo rather than pushing the envelope with tweaked board designs or innovative cooling solutions.

Fortunately, there are a few pockets of originality in a landscape of cookie-cutter reference designs. One such beacon of hope is Sapphire's Toxic X1900 XTX, a hot rod rendition of ATI's Radeon X1900 XTX that boasts higher clock speeds and an integrated liquid cooler. That's right: this card comes with liquid cooling in the box, and there's no extra assembly required.

Can the Toxic's liquid cooler help to set a new performance standard for the Radeon X1900 XTX? What about its impact on noise levels and overclocking? Read on to find out.

Eat your heart out, Britney
Sapphire isn't the first graphics card manufacturer to tackle liquid cooling, but the Toxic's integrated approach is certainly unique. Graphics card makers have traditionally only included a GPU water block on their liquid-cooled products, leaving it up to the end user to assemble the plumbing, reservoir, and pump necessary to complete the liquid cooling system. That assembly, or even choosing the right mix of components, might be trivial for a seasoned water-cooling aficionado. For the average consumer, gamer, and even enthusiast, however, it's asking a lot.

Fortunately, the Toxic comes fully assembled. It does come in two parts, though. The card itself is separate from the liquid cooling unit, which has a plastic nub that allows it to sit in a spare PCI or PCI Express slot. A generous length of hose connects the cooling unit to the card, giving users plenty the flexibility to install the cooler in just about any slot on their motherboard. That's more forgiving than most dual-slot graphics cards, which tend to be double-wide designs that automatically monopolize adjacent slots.

Apart from its attached water cooler, the Toxic card doesn't look much different from any other Radeon X1900 XTX. The card sports 512MB of memory, dual DVI outputs, and a Rage Theater video decoder that supports standard definition video input. Video output is supported as well, and in high definition, of course.

The Toxic does differ from the stock Radeon X1900 XTX when it comes to clock speeds. By default, the X1900 XTX is clocked at 650MHz core and 775MHz memory. Sapphire nudges up both clocks by 25MHz, giving the Toxic 675MHz core and 800MHz memory clocks. That's really not a huge boost, and considering the card's exotic liquid cooler, it's a little disappointing.

We can't blame the liquid cooler for the Toxic's modest memory overclock, because the two aren't even attached. The water block only covers the card's graphics chip, leaving memory cooling up to a handful of low-profile heatsinks. Those heatsinks look pretty puny next to the chunky water block, but they seem to perform well enough, at least at stock speeds.

Liquid flows back and forth between the GPU block and the Toxic's cooling unit, which houses the system's cooling fan, pump, reservoir, and radiator. We're guessing about those last three items, because for whatever reason, Sapphire has elected to shroud the cooler's internals from prying eyes. That decision appears to have been intentional, too. A small window reveals that the cooler's top casing is clear plastic, but most of it's covered by rather unattractive stickers.

That just won't do.

Enthusiasts don't mind seeing the nuts and bolts of how things work. In fact, the proliferation of case windows suggests that we actually prefer it. With that in mind, I spent the better part of half an hour using a plastic scraper, rubbing alcohol, and my girlfriend's noxious nail polish remover to undress the Toxic. Don't worry, I was gentle.